San Juan-Chama forecast: looks like a second year of shortfall

According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, warm February weather meant the earliest runoff in the 40-plus year history of the San Juan-Chama Project, which brings water from southern Colorado to the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico. But “early” does not translate to “a lot of water”.

San Juan-Chama Project contractors, the largest of which is Albuquerque, got a preliminary allocation Jan. 1 of “zero”, because storage was exhausted. The next allocation milestone comes in mid April, and with just a bit over 10,000 acre feet of SJC’s typical “firm yield” of 96,200 in storage at this point and a forecast of about 50 percent of average, it looks like another skimpy year.

It’s important to note what this does not mean. It does not mean Albuquerque goes dry. Albuquerque has more than two years’ worth of previously banked SJC water sitting in Abiquiu Reservoir on the Chama, and groundwater to fall back on. The availability of such a robust backstop is a testament to community conservation efforts. Average per capita usage is just a bit over half of what it was two decades ago. But after seeing the first year in history with a less-than-full SJC delivery last year, it’s a reminder that this effort by Albuquerque and other Rio Grande Valley communities to diversify their sources of water supply and augment the Rio Grande’s flows are not a sure bet.

update: Writing from Durango, Jonathan Thompson explains what this all looks like up in the snow-bearing region from whence this water comes:

We had a December thaw; I saw a dandelion blooming in Durango on Dec. 8. We had a February thaw, during which six 60+ degree days closed the nordic center at 9,000 feet and brought golfers onto the greens at 6,600 feet. And we had a March thaw, more like a scorcher, which coaxed apricot and even apple blossoms out, surely to be killed by an April frost.